The Failure of Moderate Muslims

Demanding that non-Muslims accommodate violent Muslims.

A Muslim chaplain at New York University, Khalid Latif, noting a recent debate at the university on the question of whether or not “Islam Is a Religion of Peace,” published a piece for CNN Monday saying that the answer is that “Islam is a religion of peace, or it isn’t.” Latif explains that “there is no one answer,” for “the Muslim community is by no means monolithic and viewing us as one is problematic. We are diverse.” Yet his own stance toward Islamic jihadists reveals the abject failure of self-proclaimed moderate Muslims in general to deal adequately with the global crisis within the Islamic world.

Latif complains that Muslims “find ourselves in a moment in which we are very narrowly understood. That normative understanding is equated to something radical, despite the fact that 93 percent of Muslims are found to be far from radical according to recent Gallup surveys.” Compounding this difficulty, he says, is that “typically when one of us from that 93 percent steps up to speak, we are vehemently told that we either do not represent Islam or even more absurdly that we are not truly practicing Islam’s teachings.”

This even happened during the NYU debate – or so Latif claimed. When a peaceful Muslim, Zeba Khan, spoke up, Latif said, her “voice, her interpretation, and all of her efforts were collectively dismissed since she did not fit into what Hirsi Ali believed Islam to be.” Ex-Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali was on the panel arguing against the idea that Islam was a religion of peace.

Latif claimed of the Muslim who was arguing that Islam was peaceful, Maajid Nawaz, that “those opposed to the motion told him that it is his peaceful understanding of Islam that is rooted in misinterpretation, since it does not match up with the interpretation put forth by the radical minority, and thus somehow ignores the fundamentals of Islam since those groups somehow are the end-all be-all of what Islam actually means.”

Above all, Latif asserted that “characteristic of any text - whether religious or not - is its ability to be interpreted through the lens of its reader. Interpretations of the Quran that espouse ideas of tolerance, compassion and mercy have existed and continue to exist in the majority of Muslim communities since the advent of Islam 1400 years ago.” And therefore, “as much as Muslims need to acknowledge the existence of a minority voice that is radicalized, so too does a broader society need to acknowledge the existence of a majority voice that is not radicalized and more importantly condemns radical thought. There are those who make Islam to be something restrictive and radical, but there are many, many more who do not.”

That’s just great, and I am happy to acknowledge that Khalid Latif is not interested in Islam as “restrictive” and “radical.” It is also worth noting, however, that a few years ago, when NYU students planned to display the Danish cartoons of Muhammad at a campus event, Latif wrote a letter to NYU President John Sexton, asking that he “not allow these cartoons to be displayed in any shape or form.” Why not? Because “the potential of what might happen after they are shown is something else that should be considered and not taken lightly.” For “the repercussions that would take place outside of the university setting are potentially huge. All over the world Muslims have been coming together over this issue and in New York they would not hesitate in doing the same thing.”

This has been widely interpreted as a veiled threat, but let’s give Latif the benefit of the doubt: let’s just say that he was simply noting the possibility of violence, not threatening violence, if the cartoons were displayed at NYU. Even if that were the case, another problem remains: he was asking Sexton to make sure that non-Muslims changed their behavior to accommodate violent Muslims, rather than directing his efforts to violence-minded Muslims to try to get them to stop the violence.

And that has everything to do with what he was saying Monday at CNN. Because here again, he was saying that it was up to non-Muslims to take due notice of peaceful Muslims. But how effective or helpful are these peaceful Muslims when one of their foremost exponents refuses to stand up to his violent coreligionists, but instead demands that non-Muslims curtail their activities to accommodate them? If Latif is really concerned that non-Muslims don’t believe his protestations of peace and moderation, this is why: his unwillingness or inability to stand up to the “radicals” either casts doubt upon his sincerity or demonstrates his impotence -- and the failure of moderate Muslims in general to do anything effective to counter those “radicals.”